Book of the Week: Mom’s Capacity for Sex


Daughter’s memory

Young people may be tired of hearing what a happy time the 70s were for women. But it’s always true, and that’s not the case in the inner and outer corners of the literary world. At the time, I was an avid reader – of Atwood, Drabble, Weldon, Lessing, Plath; and Greer, de Beauvoir, Friedan, Millett, Wollstonecraft. The mere repetition of these few representative names makes my blood boil.

Poetry was a foreign place. I have studied the grammar of Pope, Tennyson, Masefield and de la Mare, of women poets old and modern, I heard nothing. Arriving in New Zealand in the mid-60s, names like Curnow, Fairburn, Glover, Mason and Baxter became common, but none for women.

This door was finally opened for me, and I suspect for many others, by a New Zealand book. Edited by Riemke Ensing, Private gardenspublished (surprisingly enough by Caveman Press) in 1975, it highlights for the first time the work of 35 of our female poets.

One of them was Lauris Edmond, who was the subject of a new memoir by his daughter Frances, It is always His. 1975 was International Women’s Year, and when Lauris also published her first collection, Inner Spirit. Denis Glover was a great supporter of his work, however when he started, he could not resist talking about the “menstrual school of poetry”.

Others, like CK Stead, work even harder and longer in his career and in his public life. Frances quotes him to It is always His: “Lauris Edmond, for many reasons, including his sophisticated and sophisticated political and political tactics, had a dream as a poet. One was often he heard concerns expressed privately in literary circles but was never given a public airing.”

Apparently, the men of the Troubles were afraid of being called backward people who wanted women to stay in the kitchen.

The male poet described Lauris as “having an anthology of lovers, a disdainful tone.” A disparagement that cannot be visited on male writers.

It is true, as Frances writes, that Lauris rode the second wave of feminism, personally and professionally, and that she was ambitious. But that did not make him a poor poet. However, it made him popular, especially among women. That probably scared some.

There is the opinion of many writers who are convinced that they are involved in a game of big money – that what is given to one must be taken away from another.

When Lauris died suddenly in 2000. Inner Spirit he had won the PEN Award for Best First Book, and had gone on to publish other collections, a book and a three-part autobiography. Yes Selected Poems he won the 1984 Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His international fame was such that he received an obituary in the area Guardian, although its slug line, “She found poetry in family life and motherhood,” confirmed the common notion that, while men write poetry about important things, women find theirs in life. family members.

Traditional marriage was another zero-sum game. Frances says that her father and Lauris’ husband Trevor once said, when he heard from Lauris that he wanted to do something for himself, “But your happiness is in my success.”

So, in some respects, the achievements of Lauris – and his rejection of the role of a young woman after a man – were the direct cause of Trevor’s fall into mental illness, alcoholism and despair. His daughter reports that it was only recently that a journalist told her about this at a party.

An interesting aspect of his memoir is his reluctance to take sides. Some may still see his obvious love and respect for his mother as a rejection of his father, but he does not criticize Lauris, not hesitating to notice when Lauris was inconsiderate, even horrible. , especially regarding his family.

The opening chapter of It is always His it deals with Lauris’s childhood and what she called her “first life” – the small-town wife of teacher Trevor Ohakune who has her own vision of Ruapehu from the bathroom window. A mother of six children, including one who would die a tragic death at the age of 20. Most of her poems are about (in the broadest sense of the word) her children. One of the highlights of the book is Lauris’ strong sense of motherhood and grandmotherhood.

When Lauris left Trevor, he was already a published poet. But, his daughter writes: “Despite his busy, productive, professional life, constant confusion continued to haunt him – modern independent versus traditional life.” . that, when the shifts were over, I would always put family first.’

“That wasn’t always my experience.”

Frances writes that she had no idea that her mother was a sexist “in her early life” as a wife and mother. All this changed in his “second life”. He notes that his mother loved the “old men” who were her lovers – Arthur Sewell, Clarence Beeby, Bill Oliver, Hubert Witheford and Hone Tuwhare, along with others who are not named at the meetings. which he shared with his daughter. And these issues often appeared in his poems.

The male poet, writes Frances, described Lauris as “having an anthology of lovers, a disdainful tone”. Contempt is impossible for male writers, even those who are still living in the comfort of families and women who are responsible.

“Lauris was a typical Wellington icon, flowing scarf and all”: Lauris Edmond at his home in Grass Street, Oriental Bay, 1988. Image copyright Tim Steele

But, Frances writes, “As her daughter, I admire her sexuality, I admire her energy and passion for life, to have fun and experience.” And I realize that this is also giving feedback from the memoirist’s upbringing. Now in her 70s, Frances is not much younger than her mother was when she died. For Frances to have faced the questions her mother’s second life raises at a younger age would have produced a completely different outcome.

The chapters tend to deal chronologically with Lauris’s life, as his daughter knew it, and how it entered his poem. And – as one of her mother’s closest friends and colleagues – she has a unique insight into her mother’s work, from which she quotes liberally.

Only the second chapter feels like a supplement to the requirements. It is the history of Lauris’ ancestors, and – apart from his mother Fanny who meant a lot to Lauris – the details seem to bear very little relation to the themes and the story that Frances tells.

Frances calls Edmond’s nuclear family life “troublesome”, and writes of “the poisonous masma of its power”. But it stayed mostly behind closed doors during the first life. It was revealed in wide view by the publication of the second volume of Lauris’ biography during his second life. His two daughters wrote to a Wellington newspaper dissociating themselves from Lauris’ report. And it inspired Martin’s son to write and publish his father’s memoir. The gap was long and painful. And Lauris was long and concerned about it.

During the time I knew him for a little while, Lauris was a Wellington regular, flowing scarves and all, at literary events and launches. And sometime – perhaps the launch of his collection in 1996, A Matter of Time – I was touched by his reading “In Position”:

I want to tell you in time, in a strange way

works best when you don’t have much of it left:

after 60 say, or 70.

It ends:

You are alone. And slowly he begins to realize

the queer outline of what’s to come: bend in

the river beyond it, moving slowly, rises higher

(he hopes), he will disappear from sight.

Except, of course, he hasn’t.

Always Hers – Lauris and Frances Edmond: A mother and daughter story by Frances Edmond (Otago University Press, $40) is available in bookstores nationwide, including Vic Books in Wellington, which closes on March 31.

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